UNRAVELLING THE DISCONTENT SURROUNDING THE DRAFT LAKSHADWEEP DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY REGULATIONS, 2021

This article has been authored by Vishnu Bandarupalli, a second year student at NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad




Background


The Draft Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation, 2021(“LDAR 2021”) was notified on the administration’s official website on 28th April, 2021. As a result of this notification, the Union Territory of Lakshadweep saw its first series of protests (which are still ongoing) since independence. Essentially because the draft regulation seeks to alter the existing land ownership on the island, in order to bring forth ‘development’ of towns in Lakshadweep, the smallest Union Territory in the country. The article examines the changes that would be brought about by the proposed land regulations in Lakshadweep and thereby seeks to understand why people are protesting against it.


The Draft Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation


The regulation authorizes the government (in this case the administrator of the Union Territory) to constitute and empower Planning and Development Authorities in order to plan and execute development activities in any area identified by it as having “bad layout or obsolete development”. These authorities are constituted to devise land use maps, carry out zonation for type of land use and identify areas for proposed national highways, ring roads, railways, airports, theatres, etc. The citizens of the island are opposing the draft regulation emphasizing that the plan is not feasible for the ecologically fragile islands that have very little land area but are densely populated. The objections raised against the draft regulation are as follows:


· Anti-democratic mode of promulgation


The document which ran more than 150 pages was published on 28th April, 2021 and the deadline to receive comments was 19th May, 2021. Such a short timespan to receive comments from the public narrowly restricted the scope for public consultation with the locals. The timeline also coincided with the peak period of the second wave when COVID-19cases had spiked to an unimaginable proportions in India. During that period Lakshadweep had witnessed a sharp and abrupt spike in cases after reporting zero cases for almost an year. Hence, the islanders were not in the right place to critically examine the legislation and engage in a dialogue with the government.


Additionally, a translation of the legislation in the local language (Malayalam) was not provided by the government, thereby making it even more difficult for the locals to respond to it with their grievances.


· Problematic definition of development


Section 2(9) of the draft regulation defines ‘development’ as “carrying out of building, engineering, mining, quarrying or other operations in, on, over or under, land, the cutting of a hill or any portion thereof or the making of any material change in any building or land, or in the use of any building or land, and includes sub-division of any land”. This articulation of ‘development’ is attenuated and does not envisage an integrated or nature-based approach towards development. Thus, the LDAR 2021 adopts an unsustainable view of development by confining it to building, concretisation and construction.

Further, this definition of development is not in consonance with internationally recognized principles of sustainable development such as Sustainable Development Goals 13 (Climate Action), 14 (Life below water) and 15 (Life on land).


· Disregarding Supreme Court orders on sustainable development of Lakshadweep


In the 2012 case of Union Territory of Lakshadweep & Ors v. Seashells Beach Resort & Ors, the apex Court constituted a committee headed by Justice Raveendran to examine the developmental and environmental challenges in Lakshadweep. The committee made extensive recommendations for sustainable development in Lakshadweep based on the Integrated Island Management Plans (IIMP’s). The recommendations of the Justice Raveendran Committee report, which included certain ‘No Development Zones’ and consultation with the elected local self-government bodies for any development activities, were accepted by the Court in 2014. However, the LDAR 2021 does not make any mention of the IIMP’s or the Justice Raveendran Committee report. In fact, many sections of the LDAR 2021 directly contradict the recommendations of the Raveendran Committee. For instance, Section 7(3)(iv) which deals with the composition of the Development Authority, does not mandate adequate community representation.


Specific Sections of LDAR 2021 that Restrict Local Community Participation


Section 7 which deals with setting up the Planning and Development Authorities provides for only 1 representative from the local authority for each planning area. This gives them very little power to put forward their grievances and agendas. The Lakshadweep Panchayat Regulation Act of 1994 empowers the panchayats to take decisions regarding the development of areas in the Union Territory. However, the LDAR 2021 bypasses the provisions of the legislation by reducing the representation of the local community to an extent that they virtually wouldn’t have power to implement a major development activity or veto one that goes against their interest.


Sections 13, 16 and 18 give power to the government to make development plans and make land use maps. However, in this process very little scope is given for public participation. The importance of local knowledge and practices of indigenous communities in the efficacy of the development mapping process is ignored.


Sections 22 and 24 which deal with public notice of the preparation of the Development Plan do not provide for publishing significant notices about the development plans in the local languages. The lack of inclusionary provisions not only goes against the principles of public consultation but assumes significance in light of the fact that most communities in the area fall within the ambit of Scheduled Tribes.


Backlash Faced By the Move


The normally tranquil islands of Lakshadweep are simmering with protests and tension over the proposed rules. The dissent initially started with a Twitter Campaign as #SaveLakshadweep by students and it gained traction with several prominent politicians of the opposition supporting it.


Outside the Union Territory, several lawyers and researchers urged the President to withdraw the draft Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation 2021 as it violated the fundamental rights guaranteed under Articles 14 & 21 of the Constitution and principles of natural justice. The Lakshadweep Research Collective which recently did an elaborate review of the provisions and implications of the LDAR wrote to the President to annul the draft regulations and restore and rejuvenate the implementation of the Justice Raveendran Committee recommendations. It also demanded to set up a committee of policy makers, researchers, scientists and local authorities to re-examine the broader development goals in the Lakshadweep islands in the context of their climate vulnerability, unique culture and economic fragility.


In the case of Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, the apex court held that the principle of reasonableness is a crucial element of equality under Article 14. Hence, the purpose of Article 14 can be envisaged as an instrument to safeguard citizens from arbitrary and unreasonable actions by the government (or its representatives). However, the anti-democratic mode of promulgation, problematic definition of development and the disregard shown to the Justice Raveendran Committee report reveal the arbitrary actions by the government while passing the draft regulations and consequently violate the principle of equality under Article 14 of the Constitution.


Conclusion


Praful Patel, the current Administrator of Lakshadweep who is known to have played a key role in the passing of the draft regulation in an interview with The Print explained how the regulation was being brought in for the development of the UT and ‘urban growth’. He went on to draw a comparison between Lakshadweep and Maldives to explain how the former could be developed into a tourism hub like the latter through development. However, it is important to understand that Maldives is different from Lakshadweep in terms of its geography, administration, economy, ecology and socio-politics and hence the Maldivian model of tourism may seem incompatible in Lakshadweep.


The idea of development envisaged by the government through the draft Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation, 2021 seems incongruous for the Union Territory in light of its ecological fragility and geographical distribution of land area and if implemented may ultimately end up having adverse implications for Lakshadweep’s people and environment.

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